Once again, Kardinals are a soccer power

Once again, the Kearny High School boys’ soccer team is one of the best in New Jersey – although the latest state ranking doesn’t show that.

The Kardinals now own a 7-1 record, after a solid 5-1 victory over previously undefeated Waldwick last Saturday. The Kards’ lone loss came two weeks ago, a 2-1 setback at the hands against Hudson County foe Union City.

But the Kards have outscored some of their opponents in downright devastating fashion, winning games by outcomes of 15-0, 13-0 and 10-0.

“You can’t complain with the results,” veteran head coach Bill Galka said. “This comes without having a real preseason. We’ve been finding out about ourselves as the games go on.”

The Kardinals have posted the solid record, even though the team lost 14 seniors to graduation from last year’s team that finished 17-3 and went to the semifinals of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV tournament.

“That was unusual,” Galka said of the massive loss to graduation. “This year, we’re heavy with underclassmen. I think the COVID (coronavirus COVID-19) made things difficult because we couldn’t get a look at the younger kids in the summer. I wish we had more time to see what we had. We had to make cuts after just a few days of practice.”

Galka said that he made an inventory of the players he had coming back from last year’s junior varsity squad.

“We had a good idea of the kids who we could move up from JV,” Galka said. “We have three sophomores on this year’s team. We were trying to find some consistency with the younger kids.”

Leading the returnees is senior goalkeeper Matthew Brun, who has been solid in net for three seasons.

“He’s bigger and stronger this year,” Galka said. “He came in pretty fit and it showed. He’s kicking the ball better and handling the ball better. He stepped up in a big way to become a good leader for us.”

The two center defending backs are both juniors in Daniel Velazquez and Alan Castillo.

Velazquez is the younger brother of the late Adrian, who was tragically killed in an automobile accident in Delaware two years ago after finishing his freshman season playing for Rutgers-Newark.

Daniel Velazquez even wears the No. 17 jersey number that his older brother donned while playing for Kearny.

“There’s definitely a resemblance between the two,” said Galka, who made sure that there was a memorial to Adrian placed at Harvey Field after his passing. “It’s great to have Danny following in his brother’s footsteps.”

Castillo is a solid defender to pair with Velazquez.

“He has a good presence in the air,” Galka said of Castillo. “He’s good and aggressive and wins a lot of balls. They have a good partnership back there and help to shut the opponents down.”

Senior Emanuel Valentin and sophomore Michael Reis are the other two starting defenders.

“Both are new to varsity, but they have stepped up and are doing very well,” Galka said.

The Kards have a lot of talented performers in the midfield.

Junior Jeremy Klinger is the center midfielder who played considerable time with the varsity a year ago. Klinger has five goals thus far this season.

Junior Dalton Davila is another player who sees time in the center of the midfield.

Junior Aiden Mansilla has been a nice addition, scoring three goals and adding seven assists.

“He’s very skillful,” Galka said. “He has a good left foot.”

Juniors Alan Antonelli, Angel Tovar and Joao Capobianco have shown promise at the midfield slots.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Galka said.

The forward line has been outstanding. Junior Juan Rojas has exploded onto the scene, scoring 13 goals and adding six assists.

“We heard he was pretty good,” Galka said of Rojas. “Now we’re getting to see it.”

Senior Daniel Antunes is another solid player upfront.

Senior Miguel Rodriguez has been another pleasant surprise. He has tallied 11 goals and added eight assists.

“He’s improved since last year,” Galka said. “He’s stronger than last year. He is a nice target up front. We’ve been able to score some goals.”

The COVID-19 has eliminated the Hudson County Tournament this season, so there is no chance for a local showdown with neighboring rival Harrison, but there will be a state sectional tournament, one that the Kardinals have to be considered a contender.

“We’re just trying to get through the season without getting shut down again,” Galka said.

The Kardinals had a game with perennial state power Clifton on Election Day at noon, as well as regularly scheduled Hudson County games with Dickinson and Memorial before the state tournament.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”